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Black & White Street Photography Study

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Black and White street photography on film is an art form that still lives on today, even though technology has far surpassed it.
I got some photos I shot on film back from the lab today, and some of them were of street photography.
All of the photos that you will see below were taken in the space of three hours. Two hours were spent in London and one in Brighton. This just shows that it doesn’t take long to capture good photos.
PSA: Don’t take black and white photos of homeless people. It’s not artsy. It’s cliche, and a little bit demeaning.
Rule number one with street photography: always carry a camera with you.
Even if it’s just your iPhone, it’s better than nothing. You can’t take a photo of something if you don’t have a camera on you.
I was sitting on the tube in London the other day. For anyone who’s travelled on London public transport, you’ll be familiar with the eery silence that resonates though the carriages as though talking is socially unacceptable.
I wanted to capture the separation between the passengers, using my wide angle lens to magnify the open space. The angle is quite voyeuristic. And it really gives you the feeling of being part of the photo.
Classic London for me.
People on the underground - black and white street photography
Hundreds of thousands of people pass up and down these escalators every day. It was only a matter of time before someone caught me with my camera.
I purposefully waited until someone was looking at me before taking this photo so that I could create some dynamic tension. The viewer’s eyes would otherwise want to look straight up the escalator. This way, they’re drawn to the eyes of the man on the right side of the photo.
Dynamic tension is a great tool for street photography. You can read more about it here.
People riding the escalators in London - black and white street photography
Try to look for a frame within a frame when you’re exploring the streets.
I spotted this couple standing in the entrance to Victoria Station. The natural frame was obvious. I took my time taking this photo. They were too preoccupied to notice that I was taking a photo of them.
The black and white aspect of this photo really brings you back in time. It becomes much harder to put an age on the buses and buildings in the background, part of the appeal with the film too.
Using a door frame as a natural frame - black and white street photography
Mirrors always make for an interesting subject. You can take a photo of other people without them really noticing.
As I was taking this photo, my train was arriving so I had to be quick. You can see the children behind me running for the train. My slightly longer exposure captures this, while providing me with enough light to make the exposure.
That’s not all that’s in the photo though. There’s the mirror itself and the tiles and camera that surround it. These two contrasting elements allow your eyes to explore for longer. There are many more directions to travel in: into the photo, to the left, to the right and even backwards.
A self portrait in a mirror - black and white street photography
Shooting from the hip is a great way to capture unexpected photos. Not to mention that shooting on film really builds up the excitement to see what you’ve captured.
As I was walking, I zoomed all the way out on my camera and brought it up to the chest. I set my exposure and fired.
As you can see, the farther out of the photo you go, the more movement there is and this mimics your eyes. It really feels as though you’re a part of the photo, like you’re moving through the scene. This is probably my favourite photo of the whole set. But I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you like it or not.
An everyday street scene - black and white street photography
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles.
I was walking under a train viaduct near my house and the first photo I took was symmetrical – looking through the arch which is off to the right in this photo. On my walk back, I came to the conclusion that this was probably a bit boring. And it was.
There are more places for the eyes to explore in this photo. Whether they’re trying to look down the road, complete the arch that is separated by the pillar, following the line of the lamppost, or simply look through the arches.
A slanted perspective of an arch and window - black and white street photography
You’ll notice that a lot of these photo have been shot at very wide angles. I’ve actually used a 17-40mm f/4L. This is because not only can you capture more in the photos but you can take photos of people without them realising that they’re the subject.
This has happened time and time again in these photos and it’s pretty clear when. Not only that but a person’s own field of view is naturally very wide. If you want to make it look like a point-of-view shot, it pays to have a wide angle.
An image of restaurant fronts in Brighton - black and white street photography
If you’ve read my tutorial on horizons, you’ll be very familiar with the advantages of placing the horizon high or low in the frame. I’ve opted for high here.
This isn’t technically street photography. But I wanted to capture where people had been using the footsteps that have passed across the sand. Again, the black and white help provides and element of age to the photo.
A gloomy beach scene - black and white street photography
You don’t have to get up close and personal with everyone to make good street photography. Step back and embrace other aspects of your scene instead.
I actually stood here waiting and fiddling with my camera, pretending to do something else until the lady on the left got close enough. Her vertical shape neatly mirrors that of the lamppost of the right and the lines across the car park tie them both together.
Your framing usually has to be very quick but, every now and then, you can take your time and capture the image just how you want it.
A woman walks in front of cars in a car park - black and white street photography
Be quick with your photo taking.
I saw this scene as I was travelling up the escalator on the London Underground but this isn’t actually how I wanted to capture it.
I wanted to see people spread out across the photo with posters in between, going from edge to edge. This would provide  the feeling of repetition, allowing the brain to assume that it carries on indefinitely.
I ran into two problems when taking this photo: firstly and rather classically, I had left the lens cap on and, secondly, I had the camera on lock, which meant it was effectively off.
Be ready.
a dark image of people riding the underground escalators - black and white street photography
Keep your eyes pealed for what’s going on around you and capture the moments of other people.
It’s not often that people take photos of other people taking photos but that’s exactly what I chose to do here.
London Victoria Station: a popular spot for most tourists to pass through – there are always going to be people around who are preoccupied and won’t notice you taking their photo. Busy locations such as this make for a great place to capture plenty of street photography.
An image of people in Victoria Train station - black and white street photography

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3 comments
  1. One of my favorite posts from you so far. Thanks for this. I have an old Minolta x700 that I’ve wanted to start using again with b&w film. Very helpful post to help me get started.

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